Pretty Proud Boy

by Rosaleen McDonagh
Directed by Gemma Whelan∼

May 21 – Jun 20, 2021

An Online Audio Play

A mother and her son at a crossroads — what do we do when those closest to us become violent strangers? Pretty Proud Boy explores the pressing and timely issues of fascist white supremacy, the threat of COVID-19, and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how these global events have impacted Irish Travellers, an indigenous ethnic minority in Ireland.

Show sponsor: Len and Susan Magazine
Season sponsor: Ronni Lacroute

Launch Party
Available

Events:

About Pretty Proud Boy by Justine Nakase:

In Pretty Proud Boy playwright Rosaleen McDonagh explores a range of pressing and topical issues such as the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, the rise of fascist white supremacy, the threat of COVID-19, and the challenges of living through a pandemic that enforces (and reinforces) social isolation. While all of these themes are familiar to us here in America, McDonagh dramatizes how these global issues have specifically impacted the Traveller community in Ireland. In doing so, she gives voice to a people that have long been both underrepresented and misrepresented, both on stage and in life.

Travellers (also known as Pavees or Mincéirs) are an indigenous ethnic minority in Ireland. Today there are an estimated 31,000-36,000 Travellers in Ireland, with an additional 15,000 Irish Travellers in Britain and 10,0000 Travellers of Irish descent living in the United States. Travellers have a distinct heritage and culture that includes their own language of Cant, an emphasis on the importance of extended family, and a rich oral tradition. Historically known as tinkers or tinsmiths, Travellers made their living by repairing household items and trading handmade goods and animals across the country.

 

But what is perhaps most central to Traveller culture and identity is their tradition of nomadism. For centuries Travellers were an itinerant people who moved across Ireland in horse-drawn caravans to find work and trade. Indeed, the majority population in Ireland is contrastingly referred to as the “settled” population. Yet this nomadism—and Travellers in general—were seen as a problem to be solved by the emerging Irish state. In 1963 the Irish government published the Commission on Itinerancy Report, which informed a state policy of forced assimilation for Travellers for the next twenty years. As itinerancy was increasingly criminalized, Travellers were relegated to state-managed halting sites, often with little or no access to basic sanitation, water, and electricity. These issues are ongoing: a 2016 report on Traveller halting sites by the European Committee of Social Rights criticized the Irish state for lack of clean water and drainage, and poor or non-existent sanitary services such as trash collection and proper sewer drainage—living conditions that have exacerbated risk in the current pandemic.

 

Anti-Traveller racism is also ongoing, as Travellers continue to encounter discrimination both on a systemic and a personal level. Aspects of traditional Traveller culture have been repeatedly criminalized, resulting in the over-policing and institutionalization of Travellers. Health disparities are striking, with lower life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates for the Traveller community. Traveller history—both their contributions to Irish culture and their treatment at the hands of the Irish state—is still not taught in Irish schools. Most troubling, though, is how open anti-Traveller sentiment continues to pass as socially acceptable “common sense” rather than deep-seated racism—by elected officials, the Irish media, and in the settled population in general. In fact, it took over thirty years of Traveller rights campaigning for the Irish state to finally recognize Irish Travellers as an ethnic minority in 2017, and Traveller activists continue to fight for recognition and equality for their communities.

 

We can find many parallels between the experiences of Travellers in Ireland and those of Indigenous and Black communities in America. So it might be surprising to see David—himself a victim of racism in Ireland—subscribe to the white supremacy promoted by anti-government movements such as the Yellow Vests in Ireland. But that is what is so powerful about McDonagh’s piece—it shows how categories of race and identity are shifting and complex, how disenfranchisement can result in seeking power where you can find it, and how intoxicating the promise of belonging can be to those who feel they have been pushed aside their whole lives.

— Justine Nakase

VIDEOS

Play Video

CAST

Deanna Wells
WINNIE
Zak Westfall
DAVID

CREATIVE TEAM AND CREW

Gemma Whelan~
DIRECTOR
Rosaleen McDonagh
PLAYWRIGHT
Adam Liberman
AUDIO
Karl Hanover
DIALECT COACH

The Director is a member of the STAGE DIRECTORS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS SOCIETY, a national theatrical labor union.